Originally published at Omnigamer.com on January 7th, 2014.
Adaptation between artforms is not uncommon, and the standard for the day seems to be the adaptation of book to the silver screen. As far as the silver medal is concerned, one could make an argument for the film-to-video game adaptation, which tends to yield fruit of the same quality and quantity as a durian tree that’s been set on fire. The necessity of any of these remakes is still up for debate, a prominent example being Alan Moore’s refusal to put his name in the credits for the big screen adaptations of V For Vendetta and his magnum opus Watchmen.
Regardless, the variation engine keeps chugging along, turning songs into books, TV shows into films, and gangsta rappers into cop show detectives. One that we don’t see that often, however, is the adaptation from book to video game. And given the fact that my favorite past time is playing video games while listening to audiobooks (you haven’t lived until you’ve played Plants Vs. Zombies while listening to World War Z), it was only a matter of time until I started coming up with a list of books that would make amazing video games.
And with bits of news like Telltale Games developing the next Games of Thrones, and that even Jane Austen is going to see a game makeover, there is a clearly a push for this sort of thing. Now, I’ve made the argument in the past that the notion of one artistic medium being inherently superior over another is one that we need to get out of our heads, so it’s important to note that I’m not saying that any of these games would necessarily be better than their originals; just that perhaps a Kinect-enabled Frankenstein game that focuses on stealing body parts and stitching them back together is an idea whose time has come.
Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness In The West by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy’s anti-Western splatterfest has made many appearances in the American novels “Best of” lists that have come and gone over the years. It follows a young drifter known only as “the kid” as he follows the Glanton Gang through Mexico as they kill and scalp Native Americans in a cartoonishly violent rampage. Lead by the sociopathic Judge Holden, the gang cuts a vicious scar through Texas and Mexico, collecting scalps and leaving misery in their wake. The end result is a slaughterhouse of gore that is more about the unending nature of violence and human suffering than anything else.
How It Would Play
Take the sand-in-the-teeth grit of Red Dead Redemption and combine it with the “violence to protest violence” nature of a game like Spec Ops: The Line. You play as “the kid” throughout the rise, and eventually dissolution, of the Glanton Gang. You unravel the vast, winding trails along the U.S./Mexico border in 1849, always unsure of your eventual fate. Levels of over-the-top violence are interspersed with the calm desperation of searching for water, hunting for food, and attempting first aid on bloodied comrades.
The most interesting aspect of this game would definitely be Judge Holden. Holden is described by McCarthy as seven feet tall and completely hairless. He personally kills dozens of people, including women and children, but is supremely intelligent. As the story progresses, he moves from a frightening leader to a terrifying enemy. In the right hands, he could serve as a villain every bit as threatening and fascinating as Vaas in Far Cry 3.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The argument that The Hunger Games trilogy is a ripoff of Battle Royale has been going on for years. The flame wars on internet message boards set underground fires beneath coffee shops and comic book stores all over the country. Those fires still burn to this day. Of course, the truly ancient nerds (read: guys like me) think both books are the result of an even older larceny that dates back to the fifties, Lord of the Flies. I’m not here to further that war, but I do believe that any of these three would make an amazing game. Since any of those three games would be nearly identical, all of them shall share an entry, because a game where you play a child who has been abandoned in a raging wilderness to make war upon his peers is a game people would play the hell out of.
How It Would Play
While some minor details would change from franchise to franchise, each of these pieces of source material would lead to a game of hunting, fighting, and surviving. Start with the fact that you’re playing a teenager at oldest. This makes a leveling system a no-brainer, as you’re largely at the beginning of your skill sets as a human being. The end goal is to survive – to make it through a designated amount of time without being killed or incapacitated by your peers or the obstacles set in your path. How you get to that result is entirely up to you and what you train your character in. Specialize in hiding and stalking to quietly assassinate your foes, or even just wait. Learn to craft weapons or traps from the environment around you Perhaps you could even specialize your character in speech and manipulation, talking your supposed foes into protecting you or working with you, and then betraying them at the most opportune moments. I see this as an intertwining of the crafting/skill tree heavy worlds of Skyrim and Far Cry 3 with a heavier focus on surviving. It wouldn’t have to be a stealth game, but it definitely could be.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
George Orwell’s allegorical tale mirroring the Russian Revolution is a heady political novel despite its slim size. The story follows a farm of talking animals who, tired of being abused for the sake of humanity, rise up against their owner and take over the farm for themselves. What follows is a downward spiral of corruption, greed, and blind nationalism in the face of abuse, also known as every game of Civilization you ever played against your brother.
How It Would Play
Animal Farm has a lot going for it in terms of a satisfying game experience. Think a smaller-scale version of Civilization strategy combined with a healthy dose of Soviet bleariness, a la Papers, Please. The game could begin at the overthrow of Farmer Jones, the player filling the role of one of the original revolutionaries to rise up. You take control of Animal Farm as one of the pigs in charge, delegating responsibilities and running the farm as you see fit. The majority of the farm’s denizens are fairly stupid, but that doesn’t make them harmless, and how you manipulate your underlings could leave you open to overthrow from another clever animal. Efficient use of propaganda, intimidation, and brute force are required turn by turn, with various, randomized problems for you to solve.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Considered by many to be one of the most influential works of fiction ever written, Don Quixote was written in the early 1600′s and has since been adapted on film, stage musical, and ballet. Following the deluded Alonso Quijano, Don Quixote is the tale of an old man who has convinced himself that he is a chivalrous knight of legend. He traverses Spain with his “squire,” Sancho Panza, and they right wrongs and defeat evil-doers. The trouble is, these evil-doers are never who they seem to be – brigands and ruffians are merely traveling merchants, while massive giants turn out to be windmills. Don Quixote is a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic story about aging, fantasy, and ultimately, death. A video game based on Don Quixote would allow the player to control the deluded old knight as he fights evildoers, collects new equipment (a shaving basin posing as a glorious helmet, for example), and seeks the hand of a beautiful maiden.
How It Would Play
In a Don Quixote video game, the key device to set it apart from your average action-adventure game would be a Fantasy Meter. The usual health bar would function as a secondary device to the Fantasy Meter, which would measure Quixote’s grasp on the world around him. As long as the Fantasy Meter is full, he believes himself to be a regal knight, and the people and places around him take on illusory roles. An inn becomes a massive castle, a common wench becomes a beautiful maiden, and a choked stream becomes a raging river. As a brave knight, Don Quixote can protect the maiden and ford the river. But the world is filled with the banal reality that your protagonist is trying to escape, and when he comes in contact with such hazards (i.e., certain enemies, dialogue choices, equipment) his Reality Meter drops. If ever Don Quixote’s Reality Meter drops to zero, he becomes a sad, disillusioned old man again and wanders home. His only way to refill said Meter is to find and read various books of chivalry and high adventure – but he must be careful, as the occasional book of politics or economy can be disguised as a fantasy story.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Let’s face facts: you know the source material. And on top of that, you’re probably calling me a cheater – and I kind of am. Harry Potter has been transformed into the video game world several times, with everything from Quidditch to Lego adventures. But when we get past the fact that those games are more focused on the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s massive fantasy world, it becomes clear that these interactive representations fall pretty short. Also, to take part in battles and scenarios that have already been spelled out in The Sorcerer’s Stone or The Half Blood Prince is interesting, but if fanfiction has taught me anything, what Potterheads are really looking to do is insert themselves into their favorite mystical world–perhaps even enroll in a boarding school that could kill you.
How It Would Play
Four words: Harry Potter, KOTOR style. Okay, technically that’s quite a few more words than four when you get down to brass tacks, but stick with me here. I propose a Harry Potter roleplaying adventure that takes place some years before the canonical exploits of good ole lightning-bolt head. The fact that Hogwarts and the Wizarding World in general tend to be stuck in an oddly Middle Age-esque sort of period means that it would be familiar enough for fans to happily devour everything that they see. However, the time period should be far removed enough that the player feels like they are creating something attached to Harry Potter, but distinctly their own.
The player would start as a first year student attending Hogwarts. The creation of their character will take place over the course of their registration. They can choose to be from a Wizard family, a Muggle family, or a Mudblood family, taking the benefits and flaws that come with each–for example, a Mudblood might take severe social penalties from certain wizards for their mixed background, but receive an experience bonus related to their ability to see the world from two different points of view. From there, the player gets to experience the wonder of the Sorting Hat. There could be options for manually choosing one of the four houses, picking a house a random, or even being asked questions of the hat to determine what they’d best be suited for. The players House determines their skill trees and perhaps even attribute bonuses.
Academically-inclined Ravenclaws, for example, might receive natural bonuses to Intelligence related skills, while a Slytherin could find themselves specializing in Bluff skills or even Stealth. These choices, combined with bonuses related to classwork (a la Bully) determine not only how the player progresses, but how the game itself is played. The Potterverse is filled with everything from courageous brutes to silver tongued cowards, so it’s important to offer the chance for the player’s character to be just as distinct.
The first game would take place over the course of the protagonist’s seven years at Hogwarts, with various puzzles, crafting opportunities, sporting events and boss battles for each year. Want to be your class valedictorian? There’s opportunity for that. Want to lead your House’s Quidditch team to glory? Go out and do it. There could even be a sequel that allows the player to import their Hogwarts graduate into the adult world, taking the opportunity to become a professor, magical athlete, or even an Auror.
Well, that was fun. And I’ve sufficiently made myself crazy with the knowledge that these games don’t presently exist. Let us know what books you’d like to see adapted to your favorite gaming system in the comments below.